Henry Surtees – The duality of motorsport

henrysurtees

Sunday began under clear blue skies. A day to be spent at the races, for once actually taking part rather than sitting in a media centre, bent over a laptop drinking luke warm coffee.

I’d been invited down to the Daytona kart track in Milton Keynes, England, for an endurance event put on by Race Drivers Inc, a young company which has been established to act as a racing drivers’ club without all the stuffiness. Say the words “racing drivers’ club” in Britain and your first thought is a swanky clubhouse at Silverstone and a bunch of rules and regulations that are as antiquated as a large number of the members.

But this new club had been set up to be a meeting place for racers at all levels. It’s a club where the more experienced can advise the youngsters, be it on racing lines for their upcoming race at Snetterton, or about the pitfalls of sponsor functions. They’ve got PR advisors, fitness coaching, and the whole thing’s just intended to be a chilled out way for racers to get together and share the wealth of knowledge that they’ve accrued.

The club’s organiser, Barry Scott, greeted me on arrival with a huge grin and the news that I was being placed in a group with GT3 driver Chris Dymond, Formula Renault hotshoe Alice Powell, and my old mate, GP2 racer Karun Chandhok.

The sun shone intermittently between torrential rain showers and we stood under the tarpaulin drinking tea and eating mars bars, willing on our team-mates to overcome the constantly changing conditions. Chris and I both got drive-through penalties thanks to over-officiating, but a result of fifth wasn’t considered bad. Alice took the best lap of the day, too. Watch out for her… she’s nifty!

It had been a really great day and a chance to meet a lot of young, hungry and enthusiastic British racing drivers. We joked that the music they were playing over the speakers was older than most of the competitors… and it was. Alice was born in 1993!

We said our goodbyes after meeting some new friends and made our way back to our homes. My phone rang and it was Karun. He asked if I’d seen the news. I had literally only just heard myself. Small snippets were filtering through from Brands Hatch about an accident involving Henry Surtees. And it wasn’t looking good.

I can’t say I knew Henry well. I met him only once in passing when I went to interview his father in the Silverstone paddock last season at a BTCC race, when Henry was racing in Formula Renault. But from everything I’ve heard about him, he seemed like a genuinely lovely guy.

Having spent the day with so many talented and hopeful young drivers, Henry’s death really hit home. We often forget that little warning on the back of our paddock passes… the one that says “Motorsport is Dangerous.” We overlook the duality of the sport and that for all of the beauty and wonder it often creates, it can also be so indiscriminately savage.

Henry was only 18 years of age and was well known to a number of the racers I’d spent Sunday with. His loss is sure to hit them and his rivals in the still-young F2 series hard.

It is, however, perhaps in Mario Andretti’s famous words following the death of his team-mate Ronnie Peterson that they may find solace.

“Unfortunately, motor racing is also this.”

Article taken from this week’s issue of GPWeek. Click the blogroll to read the full issue.